All about Diptheria, causes, symptoms and vaccines

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Before the introduction of routine vaccination, the disease ranked among the leading causes of infant mortality. Following a one to five day incubation period, typical diphtheria presents as pharyngitis with pseudomembranes that can spread, obstruct the airways and eventually lead to death by asphyxia. Complications of diphtheria include potentially fatal heart and neurological disorders.
Areas of highest risk
Areas of highest risk

Areas of Highest Risk

In 2017, an estimated 19.9 million infants worldwide were not reached with routine immunization services 
such as 3 doses of DTP vaccine. 

Around 60% of these children live in 10 countries 1

Did You Know?

Diphteria’s transmission occurs through respiratory droplets and close physical contact

Diphtheria is fatal in 5 - 10% of cases, with a higher mortality rate in young children (2)

Symptoms and Treatment

  • Typical diphtheria presents as sore throat, followed by a thick coating on the back of the throat which can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death.
  • Treatment relies mainly on the administration of diphtheria antitoxin. Antibiotics are also used to contain bacterial growth, but they have no effect on toxin-induced symptoms.


  1. World Health Organization. Immunization coverage fact sheet. Available at accessed June 2017.
  2. World Health Organization. Available at last update 20 September 2018.


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